The Engineer (A Lance Drecker Story)

The Engineer (A Lance Drecker Story)

A Story by J. W. Hester

A small and brilliant scientist is a prisoner in his own lab. When he completes his latest invention, will he be executed by his captors, or will he escape?


‘Waiting was always the worst’

A burst of steam crept over the man’s bushy mustache, from his mouth, and rose silently into the air. The air was always humid in the cramped little laboratory. A hissing noise came from the large, metallic, apparatus slung over the man’s back. He sat and stared anxiously, his short round figure leaning forward with anticipation from the top of a barstool. Sweat ran in small rivulets down his face, from his fuzzy grey head, past the goggles he always wore, down to his neck where it disappeared behind the tall collar of his white leather lab coat.

He stared, unwavering, at the side of a small metal box as if attempting to intimidate it. Wilhelm Klank’s handler’s watched as he (yet again) finished a small and meaningless invention. The men seemed like gentlemen from their appearance; nice black suits with shiny wing-tip shoes. Their well-groomed demeanor hid well the fact that they were killers. They had locked him in his lab and had been watching him for months now while he completed a new weapon for their employer, and if they could say anything nice about the guy it was that he was a pure genius. Calling him eccentric would be an understatement, and the man almost never spoke, however he had managed to invent several bizarre and fascinating machines and devices since they took their station, and all without losing pace on the work being done on the weapon.

Klank could sense his handlers watching through the window to his lab, but this was one of several distractions his mind filed away as “Unimportant”.


The air wavered above the metal box, when finally, and with a loud pop, two well-browned slices of bread burst into the air.

“HA HA!” he shouted triumphantly, spinning on the barstool in excitement. The metal contraption on his back made excited whirring sounds, as if it too was enjoying the moment. The large device had various arms with tools on the end to aid in his work, but right now they were flailing around to find something to grip to stop their master from spinning.  

He lifted up a hose with a tapered end from his hip and put it to his lips. As he drew on it, the glow of the hot coals in the contraption grew brighter as it heated the small water tank, which then sent hot steam up through a filter. In the filter was a tuft of some of his favorite leaf. He breathed out a puff of steam, and sighed contentedly as he felt the surge of satisfaction he always felt from inventing. He hadn’t felt this good since he created the ‘zipper’.

His happiness subsided quickly as he remembered his predicament, looking up at his captors. He could have completed this weapon, what he called a ‘Tank’, months ago for their mysterious employer. He kept them marveled at the little trinkets he’d put together. He’d make excuses, or make a show of having a difficult time of the work, but their patience was visibly wearing thin. He dare not refuse to work again, he had only just healed from the last time he’d made that mistake, but he could still stall for time.

Thank god for his Lab Assistant. That’s what Klank called the metal monstrosity on his back. Ever since he built into it the ‘Electro-Vaporizer’, he’d been able to calm himself with a puff from it whenever doubt crept into his mind as to how he would make it out of this.

Klank waited for today’s shipment of parts with unease. This would be the last shipment, as the tank was about to be completed. Today was the first time, however, that the delivery men were running late.

 This suited Klank just fine since it gave him some time to listen to his radio dramas. If there was anything Wilhelm loved more than Inventing, it was listening to his American Western radio dramas. The epic pioneer stories, cowboys, posses, damsels, and heroic sheriffs absolutely lit up his imagination. He could often be found to have set his Lab Assistant to ‘automatic’ whilst he daydreamed of being a heroic cowboy in a posse, led by a legendary sheriff, to save a damsel and bring down a dastardly gang. His heart skipped at the thought.

Around noon, a rap came from the bay door at the far end of the lab interrupting his fantasies. One of his captors whispered a passphrase through a slit, and there was a response. The door came up and the two delivery men began wheeling their carts in, with the door closing behind them. Klank did not recognize these delivery men, as the usual ones were a bit more heavy set, though it would explain why it was running late.

Knowing his handlers would get impatient if he didn’t get started right away, Klank scurried to the carts, human and mechanical hands moving frantically, assembling small parts into bigger parts. Klank noticed that the carts were shallower than they looked. His mind filed it under “Unimportant”. He was almost done, after all, and couldn’t be bothered by little details that could impede his freedom. The delivery men watched with wonder at the little man/machine before them, and the speed with which he turned little things into bigger things. One smelled like fish, the other like a bitter tobacco leaf, but these little facts were also filed away as “Unimportant”.

Grabbing his new sub-assemblies, Klank carried them over to the big metal toaster-shaped tank and climbed inside. He worked around the engine, diligently working the parts into the guts of this beast. He was thankful they hadn’t installed any guns on it yet, or he might not be able to get around inside the machine with his Lab Assistant on his back. As he finished, he darted through the metal hatch of the tank into the lab to start pumping fuel in. He scurried across the lab, pulled the lever starting the pump, and scurried back with a singular focus, failing to notice the two delivery men nervously frozen next to two open fuel drums, wing-tipped shoes sticking out from the top of both. Back inside the tank, he quickly checked everything before pulling a lever. The engine sputtered and chugged to life. It was complete.

Sucking steam from his Electro-Vaporizer, Klank felt months of tension leave his body. Tears welled in his eyes and his goggles began to fog. Several of the mechanical arms did a small applause, followed by a small triumphant whirring sound.


Klank turned to see a dark figure standing behind him. He removed his goggles and steamed them with his breathe and cleaned them before replacing them to face his captors one last time.

The delivery man stood there leaning into the tank, looking around anxiously, before grabbing Klank’s arm and yanking him out.

“I am free?” Klank said in his aged, nasally voice, his German accent drizzled in.

“Not yet, hombre” came the gruff voice of the delivery man. He looked to his companion, “Get the door.”

“Si!” said the fish-scented delivery man, disconnecting the flexible-tubing pumping fuel into the tank and leaving it to pool on the floor. He rushed to the door to find it sealed and locked.

“No can do, Senor!”

“S**t. Look,” Smoker said, now looking at Klank, “those guys work for a really bad man. They had no intention of letting you go today. They were going to kill you. Here”. He handed him a telegram.

Klank read the letter addressed to his captors. He had glanced telegrams sent to his captors before, and recognized the letterhead, and this one matched. It indicated that he was mere minutes from being executed. Klank looked at the delivery man with understanding.

“We intercepted that on the two delivery men who ‘leant’ us these uniforms. We want to get you outta he-“. The door from the hallway burst open, the first man through opening fire with his auto-loading rifle as seven more men filed in behind him. The smoky deliveryman yanked Klank behind the cart he brought and flipped the cart forward. The fishy delivery man did the same with his.

“Hang on!” Smokey said over the gunfire as he opened a panel in the bottom of his cart and pulled out a belt with two revolvers. Fishy pulled a submachine gun from his and began to return fire. Smokey placed a slouch hat on his head, fixed the belt to his waste and began to shoot around the corner.

The gunfire was deafening. Klank watched this gunslinger defending him and his eyes began to well up behind his goggles.

“Sheriff?” he whispered, in admiration that one of his heroes had leapt from his radio stories to his rescue. A bullet grazed the gunslingers arm, causing him to yelp and curse, and bringing Klank back to reality. They were pinned down, the door was locked and if they couldn’t get out the sheriff, the fish man, and himself would die. Filed under “Really-frickin-important!”

Klank looked around frantically, his defenders still firing. Their bullets wouldn’t last forever. Klank saw the tank, and his genius kicked in.

“Here!” yelped Klank, getting Smokey’s attentions. Klank took a series of large draws from his Vaporizer, the glow from the coals in the back getting hotter and hotter. The pressure in the water tank had increased immensely. Klank disconnected the water tank from his back and threw it over the cart, between them and their attackers.

“Shoot!” Klank pleaded. Smokey grinned, peaked around, and shot the water tank. Steam exploded into the air, screening them from sight. Klank grabbed Smokey’s arm, Fishy crouch-running close behind, and led them inside the tank. Once inside, he closed the hatch; the sound of gunfire was now muffled by the sound of the engine still running. The pings of bullets could be heard on the skin of the tank, but nothing came through.

Smokey and Fishy waited and looked around anxiously, not sure what Klank was up to.

“What now, pardn-“

“Shhhh!” Klank cut him off. He listened intently. They could hear voices and banging all around the tank now as the armed men tried to probe for weaknesses. Klank slipped thick gloves onto his hands and moved towards a small port hole in the side of the tank. He reached around and opened the coal container on his Electro Vaporizer, pulling some glowing rocks from within. He quickly shoved his hand through the porthole, released, and pulled in, immediately pushing two levers and lurching the tank into forward motion. The hot coals bounced down the sloping side of the moving tank. One of the men watched as the glowing embers landed in the still growing pool of fuel on the ground, the pump still belching fuel through the hose.

An explosion of flames and smoke licked the edges of the portholes, as Smokey and Fishy covered their heads. Klank grinned amidst the explosion and screams as he took the driver’s seat, the flames reflection dancing across his goggles. He drove the tank a mile into the nearby woods before stopping it.

The three of them stood outside the tank for ten minutes, stretching, and breathing the cool air. Smokey hobbled over to Klank.

“The name‘s Drecker. You are free to go, but there is no guarantee they won’t try to snatch you up again. Now, we are trying to take them down, and we could frankly use the help. Right now it’s just me and Capitano over there, plus my contacts in Paris that led me to you. We gotta boat, and I was wondering if you’d be interested in helping us bring these guys down?”

Klank quickly looked at the captain, then back to Drecker.

“Posse?” he said, tears welling behind his goggles, hands clenched excitedly in front of him.

“Well, sure, you could call it that.”

Klank excitedly scurried back inside the tank, rustling around inside, a loud bang sound could be heard, before exiting wearing a child-sized, red, cowboy hat. As they walked away, one of the arms on his Lab Assistant grabbed and flung a piece of coal into the tank, landing in fuel leaking from the hole he punched in the gas tank while grabbing his hat.

“ROOT-EM, TOOT-EM!” yelled Klank excitedly, firing finger guns into the air.

The tank went up in flames.

© 2017 J. W. Hester

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Added on October 3, 2017
Last Updated on October 3, 2017